Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis

Sebastian had devoted his life and his career to the proposition that words should be used with tremendous care, that no statement should be made that wasn't capable of precise utterance, and that anyone who couldn't say exactly what he meant should keep his trap shut. In the heady days earlier in the century when this novel idea first began to gather adherents, it was held by them that a massive, invincible engine was being constructed that would overturn all false, all mistaken structures of human thought - such as religious belief - and clear the ground for true human progress. But as time passed it began to seem that this tool resembled not so much a mighty bulldozer as that useful but scarcely earth-shaking, and indeed slightly anachronistic, implement - the thing for taking stones out of horses' hooves. Sebastian didn't care. His philosophy perfectly fitted his personality, and he had nearly finished his latest book - would have finished it, if it hadn't been for Christmas.
(from The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis)
I shall have more to say about this novel, with, I hope, a degree of modest clarity. This writer does things with words.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Conversation Game

So it was a dream and it may be just another story that we tell at the breakfast table. This one was vivid and detailed. I was at a dinner party, enjoying raucous fun and talking about inventing a conversation game. It had just been decided that a ‘stoat’ defeated a ‘boast’, the latter being an exaggerated claim and the former a nip that exsanguinated. It seemed such good sport and the puzzle of how to decide a winner my waking excogitations must leave so.

Think of a hat with slips in that are drawn with several questions and topics that are gauged to the present company. We might ask:

Is a S.J.W. and a Contrarian cross sterile or an obliging mule?

How many roads must a man go down?
(a) till he buys a map
(b) Till he asks a local
(c) Till he decides that he should never have left home

Central heating has killed the art of conversation?

Cliches are cold porridge, unsalted.

The sentence before ‘We never talk anymore’.

Is talking in sentences a thing, really, actually?

And so forth:

Is X living a hand to nose existence?
For the gossips.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Thomas Carlyle on the Trump of Doom

For my own share, far be it from me to say or insinuate a word of disparagement against such characters as Hampden, Elliot, Pym; whom I believe to have been right worthy and useful men. I have read diligently what books and documents about them I could come at;—with the honestest wish to admire, to love and worship them like Heroes; but I am sorry to say, if the real truth must be told, with very indifferent success! At bottom, I found that it would not do. They are very noble men, these; step along in their stately way, with their measured euphemisms, philosophies, parliamentary eloquences, Ship-moneys, Monarchies of Man; a most constitutional, unblamable, dignified set of men. But the heart remains cold before them; the fancy alone endeavors to get up some worship of them. What man's heart does, in reality, break forth into any fire of brotherly love for these men? They are become dreadfully dull men! One breaks down often enough in the constitutional eloquence of the admirable Pym, with his "seventhly and lastly." You find that it may be the admirablest thing in the world, but that it is heavy,—heavy as lead, barren as brick-clay; that, in a word, for you there is little or nothing now surviving there! One leaves all these Nobilities standing in their niches of honor: the rugged outcast Cromwell, he is the man of them all in whom one still finds human stuff. The great savage Baresark: he could write no euphemistic Monarchy of Man; did not speak, did not work with glib regularity; had no straight story to tell for himself anywhere. But he stood bare, not cased in euphemistic coat-of-mail; he grappled like a giant, face to face, heart to heart, with the naked truth of things! That, after all, is the sort of man for one. I plead guilty to valuing such a man beyond all other sorts of men. Smooth-shaven Respectabilities not a few one finds, that are not good for much. Small thanks to a man for keeping his hands clean, who would not touch the work but with gloves on!
(from On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle)

In the end we may pray for boredom and a technocrat to save us. Donald John Trump is doing exactly what he said on the tin and the New Yorker magazine’s pearly words are clutched but availeth not.

As for the Wall I take counsel from Ezekial 13:12

Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?

Nevertheless be ye earnest:

Plausibility has ended; empty Routine has ended; much has ended. This, as with a Trump of Doom, has been proclaimed to all men. They are the wisest who will learn it soonest. Long confused generations before it be learned; peace impossible till it be! The earnest man, surrounded, as ever, with a world of inconsistencies, can await patiently, patiently strive to do his work, in the midst of that.

Richard King on Asparsa Yoga in Gaudapada's Karikas (Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism)

Writing on Asparsa Yoga: the Gaudapadian Phenomenology of Perception:
Perception is base upon the possibility of contact (sparsa) between a perceiver and a perceived object. An attack upon this notion then is fundamental to an attack upon all “realist” theories of perception. The Nyaya Sutra, for instance, defines perception (pratyaksa) as “the determinate, unnamed, and unerring knowledge which arises from the contact of a sense organ with its object.” This is an inherently dualistic understanding of experience and as such is clearly unacceptable to the non-dualistic authors of the Gaudapadiya Karikas. An attack upon the notion of “contact” is fundamental to a thorough-going non-dual theory of perception. In fact, it is the GK’s position that:

“Consciousness does not make contact with an object, not even with the appearance of an object. In fact, the object is unreal, and the appearance of the object is non different. (GK IV.26)
(pg.154 Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King)

There is a dense tangle of non-dual epistemology here. What we are immediately aware of is the mental modification (vritti) ‘caused’ by the object. In that sense we are not in contact with the object. But we are also aware of the object as it is because the same reality is fundamental to the vritti and the object. The object is a form of limitation of Consciousness (an upadhi) and it is this which allows it to be superimposed on the consciousness of the perceiver. The ‘unreality’ of the object, for Gaudapada, is due to the fact that it can be sublated. It is not changeless. Objects in the dream world on waking and illusory objects in the waking state are sublated because they are ultimately only true or real as consciousness. In fact the fundamental reality is Pure Consciousness, a boundless (anantam) unity of being in which there is no separation and therefore no contact (sparsha).

It is non-duality which makes perception possible, what Vedanta Paribhasa calls perceptuality. Non-duality makes duality and veridical perception possible to put it aporetically. In disagreeing with King on this point I believe that I am tracing Gaudapada’s core insight which was explicated by Sankara particularly in the preamble to his commentary on the Brahma Sutras.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

Just to remind you that you have that more than slightly foxed copy of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. The usual Norman as ‘this reporter’ did not write it, he was hiding behind the arras listening to the flat locutions of ‘Western voices’. And he heard them. Those that know say he got them down pat and it must have been hard for him. How could he have stopped letting Mailer be Mailer? “She really cared about being dainty”. Yes of course, but messes occurred. “She felt like a lady of leisure”. Mailer gutted the language back to kernel sentences. How can cliché have such weight? Because it is a tired bandage.

Read it, hope for a stay of execution.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Sri SSS on Gaudapada

A great teacher whose name I forget said that in the great city of Mumbai (Bombay) there were 6 seekers who understood Advaita. As I am no longer living there itself there must be 5 now. Seriously, the difference between the Buddhist doctrine of Sunya and the Ajativada propounded by Gaudapada is that each successive level of realisation is absorbed or sublated by a greater reality using the adhyaropa /apavada dialectic. The Buddhist sunya is accomplished in one rapture. This is my present understanding which may be altered by my next meeting with the panc rishi. Here is a summary of the procedure given by Sri SSS in The Essence of Gaudapada

Even so, for the sake or benefit of those seekers who are endowed with limited or low-grade intelligence (discriminative faculty) and are having predominantly an extroverted view, point, the Sruti, adopting tile ancient time-tested traditional methodology of 'Adhyaropa Apavada Nyaya' (axiom of Superimposition and Rescission), deliberately superimposes on It certain Dharmas (special features or attributes) which do not really exist in It and relatively rescinds certain other Dharmas, showing that they do not exist in It. Those preceptors who are well-versed in this traditional methodology of teaching are utilizing as an aid to this teaching the empirical logical arguments (Loukika Tarka) in consonance with that methodology.

With this very purport in mind the knowers of the Sampradaya (traditional methodology of spiritual instruction) have stated : -(GIta Bhashya, 13-12), meaning -"By virtue of the axiom of Adhyaropa-Apavada (Superimposition and Rescission) tre Tattwa (Reality) which is Nishprapaiicha (devoid of any world of duality) is taught in full detail." (Doubt) : Even if it is so, does not the defect of having uttered a lie entail them ? Even though the phenomenon of birth does not really exist, they have taught that it exists, is it not so ? (Solution) : Not so. For, they have not at all instructed, preached so in the Paramarthika . (Absolute) sense. Although the Shishyas (disciples) have believed firmly that the Dvaitavastu really exists, in the Absolute sense, none of tIle Dvaita-Vikalpas (misconceptions of duality) of the type -'Sastra', 'Sllishya', 'Guru' etc. does exist whatsoever in reality ; this alone is the ParamaItha Siddhanta (the Absolute philosophical or spiritual teaching of Advaita Vedanta
(page 531)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Proleptic Reading of Sri Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati's The Essential Gaudapada

It took me a week to learn to spell his name so I’m going to refer to him as Sri SSS from now on. Reading his Method of Vedanta and the chapter on Pre-Sankara advaita there is but glancing reference to Gaudapada. Those of you who have read M.V. will be aware that he published it at the age of 84 and considering the amount of scholarship in it, 975 pages of 8 point, where are my glasses, type, you will know that it might well take even a dedicated life that long to master the material therein. I therefore surmised that he had written a separate book on Gaudapada’s Karikas. There it is for free download on his ashram’s site.
english books
under the title The Essential Gaudapada

Before I read in it my prediction would be that he might well say something like this. ( a single quotation mark meaning a non-quote speculative attribution, ye Americans) ‘The apparent difference between Sankara and Gaudapada is that Gaudapada starts at the perfectly realised apprehension of reality and stays there while Sankara works his way through the dialectical stages of successive insight using adhyaropa/apavada’. Or words to that effect. I’m not going to read it all, it’s 277 pages long, so highlights but more than ‘just flashing’ on it. How, though, can The Essential Gaudapada be longer than the Karikas themselves?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

King on Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism

Even the author of the fourth prakarana (treatise) is an heir to the atman tradition which upholds permanence and constancy as the fundamental nature of reality. For the GK (Gaudapadiya Karika) as a whole the appearance of the world can only be adequately explained if there is some unchanging substratum supporting its manifestation. Reality must have an unchanging intrinsic nature or it could not be “reality”. This is clearly a Vedantic and not a Madhyamaka conception of reality, dispite the GK’s propensity for Buddhist arguments and terminology.
(pg.140: Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King)

Would it be invidious to suggest that one might start with a Buddhist conception of non-origination and work one’s way out of it? My own sense of the Buddhist influence is the severely monolithic monism which declares:

GK IV.23 : A cause is not born of a beginningless effect ; nor does an effect naturally come out (of a beginningless cause). (Cause and effect are thus birthless); for a thing that has no cause, has certainly no birth.

GK:IV.26: Consciousness has no contact with objects so also it has certainly no contact with appearances of objects. For according to the reasons adduced, an object has no existence, and an illusory object is not separate from awareness.

This latter goes even further than Madhyamaka’s “for impermanence is never absent in entities”. There are no such things as entities for them to be impermanent. Their being is the being of the unborn (ajativada) and they cannot be other than such.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The First to Stop Crying

Over this
solnit, lrb
irony circles and moves away disconsolate avoiding eye contact, such is the shaming of fabulism by the real. If it were a creation of satiric mischief we might bow to genius. Who living under the monumental plinth of Major public intellectual will be the first to stop crying and what will be ‘pasted’ on them.

I was thinking of the story of the man who was the first to stop clapping:

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name).... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the 'stormy applause, rising to an ovation,' continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop?... After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first!... At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly - but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?... With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers!...

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

‘Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.’

(From The Gulag Archipelago by A. Solzhenitsyn)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

F.X. Clooney on Advaita Vedanta (

It would have been nice if Jonardon Ganeri had allowed F.X. Clooney simply to give his account of what Advaita Vedanta was rather than continuing to try attach the label 'theology' to it.
fx.x Clooney
That interlocutor format has its limitations particularly when such an articulate speaker as FX is in a 3 legged race and not allowed to get into his own stride. Despite being hampered he gave a good account of a venerable tradition that asks large questions and assumes that inquiry leads to commitment. Consider the modern Vedantin Ramana Maharshi and his method of atma vichara driven by the one-pointed inquiry into the nature of the Self - Who Am I. Any particular theological system is left behind in this practice and even Zen folk have taken it up. This is beyond ritual and ashta devata (personal form of divinity) but not antithetical to them.

What FX makes of that method of vedanta known as adhiropa apavada was not specifically addressed by him though he mentioned the ultimate transcendence of form and ritual once their propaduetic function was surpassed by the seeker.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracarya

Received opinion is a good place to start but don’t live there permanently. The clever people who inhabit philosophy are often complacent about their surroundings and tend to accept the wisdom of their elders. Their examined life is no more than a cursory glance to discover what the experts tell them is the case.

However there is often little in the way of conscious effort to substantiate the Brahmasutra’s (Sankara’s Commentary is meant here) own position by the use of logical arguments and philosophical problems are often circumvented by the use of parables and references to the infallibility of scripture. This is not surprising given that the Brahmasutra’s essentially theological approach, and foundational regard for the Vedas. As a means of persuading one’s philosophical opponents, however, it remains highly unsatisfactory.
(from Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King.)

There is nothing more misleading than a half truth but to be mislead by a smaller proportion is due to careless prejudice. My copy of Brahma Sutra Bhasya has more post it notes than spines on a hedgehog and most of them indicate a rational argument or clarification. I have often written here about the Preamble which is a profound metaphysical intuition of the basis of superimposition. Vedic or eternal words is a another topic with Platonic overtones. Satkaryavada or the doctrine of the non-difference of cause and effect is a major rational exploration of the problem of causality. Being orthodox he will of course try to find vedic texts that support his view.

Another way that he develops the rational basis of his thought is by engagement with what he considers error. This is like drawing by tracing the negative space around an object thereby revealing it. His refutation of Vaisesika, Samkhya and Buddhist thought on various topics by implication reveals what his positive thought is. A discussion of the Atomic theory (B.S.B. II.ii.17 ) allows him to reveal his own views on substance and quality.

This is just a short note on a prejudice which will not survive any thoughtful acquaintance with the famous commentary but to be cynical for a moment good grades are not achieved by immersion in long and complex texts. That sort of reading has to be strictly rationed so you are better off taking your nourishment in pill form. Check my labels/topics for dietary supplements.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sankara's Afterimage

The truths of religion delivered by the scripture can be known with greater certainty than those which we puzzle out by ourselves personally or hearken to. Such would have been the attitude of Sankara and it would seem an ostensible flouting of our rational nature until we scry the small print where he adds that scripture cannot establish fire to be cold or water not wet. Nor indeed can logical reasoning achieve truths which are in the province of religious faith. To react to Shankara as one cowed by the authority of scripture is a facile and false conclusion. Yet, as he experienced it, the great light of scripture was like an afterimage that burned out normal vision. This would cohere with his non-dualism of atman and Brahman. An individual consciousness was a limiting adjunct (upadhi) of pure unlimited consciousness.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Ganeri on Advaita Vedanta

I’ve been listening to some of the podcasts on Indian Philosophy put out by Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri on history of philosophy It’s good that it is being done but I have to say I found the talk on Advaita Vedanta
advaita vedanta
to be coarse grained for the undergraduate level at which they aim. What Shankara said was that what we take to be reality is like an illusion not that it was an illusion through and through. In fact the import of what he said is that conventional reality is like a mistake or a confusion. The rope/snake is an analogy with a strictly focussed point namely that an attribute of a real entity i.e. the coiledness of a rope becomes a snake in the mind of a perceiver in poor visual conditions. It is this transfer of attribute that connects to the philosophical concept of superimposition. Adhyasa (superimposition) is linked to Upadhi (limiting adjunct) and to Vritti (mental modification).

This is much more philosophically interesting than to say ‘conventional reality is an illusion’ and it could serve as an introduction to Shankara’s theory of analogy and his ideas on the continuous development of insight in the student. That of course is getting a little deep and far from the shore.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Goldilocks and the Seven Sages

Perhaps you’ve seen already this essay by Derek Parfit from the files of the London Review of Books:
why anything why this
I spent a couple of hours pre-dawn this morning reading it and when I crept back to bed, I sleep in shifts these days; a great Odin sleep came over me and I awoke refreshed and perfectly unenlightened. More than anything it demonstrates how little space a philosopher needs to turn and how a 5,728 word essay can be generated by the application of judicious extrapolation. I resist the idea of selection points which he proffers as it seems to represent a mathematical view of time as a series of instants with all the information present for the next predictable move. I feel that there is unbroken action on all fronts in both a monistic and a pluralistic sense.

The Hindu theory of world cycles with its vertiginous yugas, kalpas and days of Brahman holds that the dissolution and the re-projection of the universe is endless but there is one constant; the Vedas. They emerge in every cycle and are heard (sruti) by the Sages. The sage of Kanchi in his book on the Vedas has interpreted this doctrine. More anon.

Monday, 2 January 2017

My Xmas Reading

Apart from the big books that sit like big faithful dogs where I left them what am I reading over the Xmas? Are reviews of the half read useful? Perhaps they are twice as useful as the normal journalist’s offering compounded from publicist’s simples and an instinct for what it is safe to like. So here, so there:

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson a simple everyday Swedish story of snow and slow cunning. Yes I see those bare faded blue rooms with a dried sunflower in a pot. Nothing much has happened after 75 pages because your tracks are covered as soon as you make them. By the snow.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. A re-reading of the tale of a Southern Gothic anthropohage. The spoon, the spoon!

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama with a David Peace recommendation on the cover ‘Simply one of the best crime novels I have ever read’. Could that be amended to ‘ …… I have ever written’? It seems in a way an impossibly slow extension of the closely observed weave of a tatami. I am at page 279 and what is emerging is evidence of a police cover up of a police cock-up. Even in Japan this terrible vista appals. I am not even half way but never mind they have left me the moon and a large piece of Xmas cake.

Carnival by James Thurber. It was disputed amongst the staff of the New Yorker magazine (they always say magazine) whether he or O’Hara, John was the most difficult to deal with. He put the irascibility into his life and sweetness into his art. A great American wit.

The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning is a dog that has woken from a dream of bones. I have found his beat and adjusted my spiritual metronome to his pulse. You must submit to everyday banality and complication of lies, plots and conflicting testimony. I shall continue to read it by sections:
True, Excellency — as his Highness says,
Though she’s not dead yet, she’s as good as stretched
Symmetrical beside the other two;
Though he’s not judged yet, he’s the same as judged,
So do the facts abound and superabound:
And nothing hinders, now, we lift the case
Out of the shade into the shine, allow
Qualified persons to pronounce at last,
Nay, edge in an authoritative word
Between this rabble’s-brabble of dolts and fools
Who make up reasonless unreasoning Rome.
“Now for the Trial!” they roar: “the Trial to test
“The truth, weigh husband and weigh wife alike
“I’ the scales of law, make one scale kick the beam!”
Law’s a machine from which, to please the mob,
Truth the divinity must needs descend
And clear things at the play’s fifth act — aha!
Hammer into their noddles who was who
And what was what. I tell the simpletons
“Could law be competent to such a feat
“’Twere done already: what begins next week
“Is end o’ the Trial, last link of a chain
“Whereof the first was forged three years ago
“When law addressed herself to set wrong right,
“And proved so slow in taking the first step
“That ever some new grievance — tort, retort,
“On one or the other side — o’ertook i’ the game,
“Retarded sentence, till this deed of death
“Is thrown in, as it were, last bale to boat
“Crammed to the edge with cargo — or passengers?
(Opening to Tertium Quid section)

Lest it be thought that I have forsaken philosophy I give you Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King the exfoliation of his Doctoral thesis. Pegasus hobbled, quite. Anyways by page 25 I can believe what seemed obvious to me on first reading of Gaudada’s Karikas, me an anaSanskrit , that Gaudapada was mightily influenced and that Adi Shankara with the piety of lineage ignores or minimised this whilst taking positions contrary to his esteemed forbear.

Christmas makes ‘hikikomori’ of us all
- How was the Xmas
- Quiet.
(Irish Dialogue heard in the New Year and the book-end to:
- Sure, we won’t feel it to the Xmas.